Raphael's Stanza della Segnatura and the Rhetoric of Julian Justice

Cosgriff, Tracy, History of Art and Architecture - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Summers, David, Department of Art, University of Virginia
Barolsky, Paul, Department of Art, University of Virginia
Fiorani, Francesca, Department of Art, University of Virginia
Miller, John, Department of Classics, University of Virginia

Raphael’s School of Athens (1508-1509), an icon of antiquity’s rebirth, has become synonymous with the Renaissance. The image commonly appears on the covers of textbooks, where Plato and Aristotle command an assembly of philosophers populating one of the greatest illusionistic vistas in the history of Western art. Yet even though numerous volumes on this famous masterpiece crowd library shelves, scholars still struggle to untangle the complexities of the painting’s design, and the fresco is too often divorced from its companion images in the Stanza della Segnatura. Recent studies have focused on identifying Raphael’s intellectual advisor for the room’s painted program, but scholars have avoided discussion of the artist’s innovative manner. To address the Roman renewal of the Christian capital under Julius II, Raphael invented a novel classicism that emulated and rivaled the restoration of ancient eloquence, but this new pictorial rhetoric has been scarcely examined. A new course of interpretation — one that centers on the Stanza's most neglected aspect, the books it once housed — has the potential to redraft our understanding of how the artist’s creative intellect reshaped the symbolic landscape of papal Rome.

Raphael (1483-1520) rose to fame in Renaissance Rome under the auspices of the warrior and canon lawyer Pope Julius II (1503-1513). Raphael’s most famous works, his decorations in the Bibliotheca Iulia, or the pope’s private library, today known as the Stanza della Segnatura, include four frescoes: the School of Athens (Philosophy), the Disputa (Theology), the Parnassus (Poetry), and the Jurisprudence (Justice), which sing of the great books and heroes celebrated within the library walls. Astonishing though it may sound, no one has yet proposed a single theme that adequately unifies the disciplines represented by the paintings and explains their collective meaning. By resituating the room, its images, and its collection of manuscripts and printed books within the literary milieu that defined the Julian court, I demonstrate that Raphael invented a lofty new pictorial rhetoric, one that extols the history of the Christian Church, announces the Millennium, and proclaims the theme of Julian Justice. What emerges is a new understanding of Raphael's innovative manner, and of Julius II not as a mere warrior, but as a considerable intellectual whose juridical ideology is closely tied to Raphael's designs. The result of my study is a major revision to the traditional account: At last it is clear that the Stanza della Segnatura was conceived as a literary and aesthetic ensemble, whose style and contents herald the Julian Golden Age as the New Jerusalem.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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